By Boštjan Videmšek/DELO
While war criminals walk free, Florence Hartmann landed in solitary confinement for her insider leaks on the politicisation of the Yugoslav tribunal.
Tuesday 12 April 2016
Florence Hartmann – a journalist, author and human rights activist – was recently imprisoned by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), for whom she had worked as a spokesperson between 2000 and 2006. For six days, she was kept in solitary confinement in a cell where the light was on 24 hours a day while every 30 minutes she was checked up on by a prison guard because she was a supposed “suicide risk”.
Hartmann’s only crime had been to tell the truth. In her book Peace and Punishment (Paix et châtiment), published in 2007, she revealed that the Hague-based tribunal, heeding the wishes of Serbian authorities, intentionally neglected to take into account the documents linking the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević and the Belgrade establishment to the Srebrenica massacre. Charging Hartmann with contempt of court, the ICTY fined her to the tune of €7,000, which the court maintains she never paid, but Hartmann claims the opposite: “I paid the fine in France in order to seek remedy through the French judge who would have been appointed to authorise the ICTY to transfer the money. the €7,000 is still in the dedicated bank account and will be used to pay the translation and the fees for the upcoming legal actions.”
The court, nevertheless, changed Hartmann’s sentence to seven days imprisonment in 2011. She was arrested on Thursday, 24 March 2016, when she dropped in to witness the historical sentencing of Radovan Karadžić. Thus far, the tribunal has financially sanctioned four journalists while sentencing one to a month in prison.
Having met up with the Mothers of Srebrenica activist group, Hartmann arrived on the square in front of the tribunal’s headquarters to await the reading of the sentence of one of the most infamous war criminals in the Balkans. The time has come for the final act of a long-lasting judiciary procedure, which – among other things – conclusively demonstrated Karadžić’s responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide.
Suddenly, a number of police officers with UN insignia burst onto the scene. In a manner described as “rough” and “humiliating”, they seized Hartmann and transported her to the nearby Scheveningen prison. The arrest distracted the public eye from the sentencing of a war criminal.
“To me it came as a total shock. I absolutely did not expect it to happen. They simply stomped in and basically kidnapped me. And this in front of a crowd of Bosnian war victims, who had come to see justice being served,” a confounded Hartmann said. “For them, it was yet another in a long line of humiliations. I saw a woman being shoved to the ground… I myself was pushed and pulled around and lost my glasses,” she added, her voice more disappointed than angry.
In her years as the ICTY’s spokesperson she had encountered numerous cases of war criminals escaping justice, as the tribunal was barred from arresting them on foreign territory.
“There are many cases where the tribunal was well-informed of these people’s whereabouts,” Hartmann says. “The prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, managed to set up a tracking system. But we were unable to go in and arrest them, since the UN hadn’t been given the madate for such a course of action. Apparently, it didn’t matter that these people were responsible for some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in history. Yet now it is entirely unproblematic for the UN to arrest me in a foreign country? The ICTY has no mandate to do so, as it was my duty to explain to the press about a million times in my years as the tribunal’s spokesperson.”
Hartmann has repeatedly pointed out that the tribunal did not sanction her in her capacity as a former spokesperson but as a journalist. “They say I broke the code of silence, yet I wrote my book as a journalist, not as the spokesperson for the tribunal. To claim otherwise is sheer manipulation, though one that is now being repeated as a mantra by many members of the press.”
Florence Hartmann, 53, is an intrepid and level-headed journalist who reported on some of the most savage attrocities of the Balkans conflict. As the Karadžić sentence was read out to the public, she was already in solitary confinement in the notorious prison which, over the years, housed numerous war criminals from the Yugoslav wars.
Her lawyer Guénaël Mettraux immediately sprang into action, but almost instantly hit a wall. As soon as the Karadžić sentence had been read out, the tribunal’s personnel departed for the Easter holidays. Mettraux placed call after call, yet no one was there to answer. At least not until the morning of 29 March, when the staff returned to their desks and Mettraux was finally able to put in an official request for her release.
During the time of her incarceration, the sole visitor permitted to Hartmann was the French consul who brought her newspapers. Yet in the end, even the consul – the ICTY requested Hartmann to be handed over five years ago, yet Paris refused – proved powerless to help.
What was it like waiting for assistance in her permanently lit-up solitary confinement cell? With a smile, Hartmann replies she felt much safer than while reporting from war zones. She was the only resident of her part of the prison, and she was never let out of her cell – unlike a number of convicted war criminals. “I was never let out in the open air for the one hour of activities to which other inmates are entitled. This was denied to me – a measure that was never justified to me or to my lawyer. I was watched over by guards around the clock, during the night only by men. They treated me well. They even offered me some reading materials. I told them I don’t much care for novels or love stories or anything of the sort,” Hartmann laughs in reminiscence. Her wish was to read Julian Borger’s The Butcher’s Trail, a book detailing the Karadžić hunt she had saved on her laptop.
Hartmann endured her prison sentence stoically. She now claims to feel perfectly fine.
Yet she also feels she has been through one of the weirdest experiences of her life, which is saying something. “Perhaps the most painful experience for me has been the eruption of mass violence in Europe at the end of the twentieth century. My generation had been brought up never to expect that sort of thing again. How many times have we heard the sentence ‘Never again’ being spoken,” she reflects. “Yet it is happening all over again. The Geneva convention is no longer in effect. In these past few months, some 30 hospitals have been bombed all over the globe. Merely the suspicion that a hospital may be harbouring suspects is enough for them to murder doctors and patients in the building. The Saudis, the Russians and the Americans are all doing it – and with absolute impunity. Also, torture has returned to the democratic countries,” the visibly exhausted author of many books explained in her Parisian apartment, adding that the 21-st century has also seen journalists imprisoned in the heart of the privileged European Union.
“ICTY failed to do its job”
Two days after Hartmann’s release, the ICTY judges reached the decision that Vojislav Šešelj, one of the key figures of the Great Serbia project and steadfast ideologue of its crimes against humanity, would get off scot-free.
Things could hardly get any more ironic. The distinguished arbiters were quite clearly communicating from a place where Franz Kafka had met Monty Python to write one of the most poignantly Orwellian stories of our time.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was set up in 1993. This was two years before Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were massacred. It was also six years before the end of the Balkan wars, two and a half years before the signing of the Dayton agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and, by legitimising the Republika Srpska, also helped legitimise much of the ethnic cleansing.
Time went on. The historical record was slowly eroded, and the Balkan conflicts were soon forgotten. With the exception of Readovan Karadžić, the ICTY failed to pass sentence on any of the major culprits behind the wars. Hartmann has repeatedly pointed out that even the case against Slobodan Milošević, who died in detention, was built on very shaky ground, mostly due to political machinations and outside interests. The acquittal of the Chetnik duke Šešešlj is thus set to put the final nail in the coffin of the catharsis of the Serbian society. The Serbs had certainly failed in their attempts to complete the process of de-nazification, and the ICTY’s sluggishness and incompetence were a major contributing factor.
Slobodan Milošević wasn’t toppled for having started wars. He was toppled for having lost them. All of them.
Today, Hartmann can barely control her outrage. “At the end of the 20th century, we set up a system designed to bring punishment on those responsible for the genocide. But a few judges sabotaged the project. As far as the ICTY was concerned, Vojislav Šešelj was free to bay for war and remain unpunished,” she laments.
Hartmann’s arrest brought on a fierce response from European intellectuals, many of whom signed the petition for her release. According to the French journalist, the impunity bestowed on many of the key figures in the Balkan conflicts is utterly unacceptable. A system of swift supervision should be put in effect, she says, yet she is also afraid that by now this is no longer possible.
“We are living in a time and place undergoing a crescendo of barbarism. And the only response to barbarism we’ve managed to come up with is more barbarism,” Hartmann observes. “National and the international law should be synchronised to prevent future conflicts. To get justice, I intend to use every legal resource at my disposal. I’m proud to say I never faltered when they told me to stop and keep my mouth shut about their illegitimate secrets.”